Four All Blacks squad members were released for Tuesday night’s clash between the Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions which, after a pulsating second half, finished 31-31 at Westpac Stadium.
So how did Jordie Barrett, Vaea Fifita, Ngani Laumape and Julian Savea fare? And did any of the Hurricanes quartet do enough to force their way into the All Blacks’ 23 for the second Test?
With injuries to Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty affecting the All Blacks, Barrett is right in the fold to join his two brothers in New Zealand’s line-up for the second Test. His versatility is an obvious strength while he looked dangerous each time he touched the ball for the Hurricanes on Tuesday night. After being penalised for a high tackle early on, Barrett enjoyed a fine night at fullback and as a second playmaker.
Recognising the space on offer out wide, Barrett threw a beautiful cut-out pass for Wes Goosen to score and looked dangerous on the counter throughout. But most impressively, Barrett looked to take control of the game by getting into first-receiver as much as possible in a thrilling final 10 minutes. He has composure well beyond his 20 years.
Vaea Fifita of the Hurricanes celebrates his second half try. Mark Tantrum/Getty Images
The Hurricanes back-rower has just one Test to his name, but has a good chance to add to that later this year. That won’t be the case this weekend, though, given the All Blacks have no injury concerns in the forwards, and will likely stick with lock/back-row reserves Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea on the bench.
That being said, Fifita was easily the dominant forward on the paddock on Tuesday night. The Hurricanes No. 6 looked to get involved at every opportunity and had six runs for 41 metres to half time. Things got a little quiet as the Lions dominated much of the third quarter, but Fifita then capped an excellent evening with a pick-and-go try under the sticks that levelled the scores at 31-all with 10 minutes to play. He is a player in the Victor Vito mould.
Ngani Laumape is tackled by Lions players James Haskell and Jonathan Joseph. MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images
A standout in Super Rugby all season, Laumape gave everyone a timely reminder of the threat he will pose during the playoffs with another brutal display of midfield running on Tuesday night. He will likely have to wait until the Rugby Championship for a Test debut, but there is no confusion over why he was called into the All Blacks squad ahead of Malakai Fekitoa.
The Hurricanes centre had a dream night at Westpac Stadium, Lions fly-half Dan Biggar one of many to feel the wrath of the former NRL player’s raw power. But as he has shown throughout Super Rugby, Laumape is adding some nice touches of skill, too, as evidenced by a chip kick down the left touchline midway through the second half. His ball-running needs little work, though, with 11 runs yielding an impressive 119 metres, two clean breaks and one try. There is a lot of Ma’a Nonu in Ngani Laumape.
Julian Savea takes it to the Lions in Wellington. Mark Tantrum/Getty Images
Given Israel Dagg is tipped to move to fullback should Ben Smith not recover from concussion symptoms for the second Test, Savea had arguably the most to play for on Tuesday night. The 53-Test winger could have done little more with ball in hand as he produced a series of tackle-shredding runs, while also hitting a wonderful inside ball before delivering the pass for Laumape’s try.
But the issue in Savea’s game remains his competence under the high ball and it again reared its head on Tuesday night. While Savea did a lot of tracking back to protect Barrett, the one aerial attempt he did make resulted in an air swing. If Steve Hansen keeps Rieko Ioane on the left wing, Waisake Naholo looks the odds-on tip to fill what may be a vacant No. 14 jersey.
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All Blacks Watch: Hurricanes vs. Lions
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